“Are there cold corners?”
“Strange behavior from the animals in the house, barking or hissing?”
“A brooding malignity?”
I glance at her, wondering where she gets these words. “Only when Mr. Flood is about.”
I knew from the first few pages that “Mr. Flood’s Last Resort,” by Jess Kidd, was going to be eerie. The most benign descriptions carry just the faintest whiff of menace. What I didn’t expect was frightening to be coupled with funny. Add in a healthy dose of imagination and a great use of language and I was entertained to the very last page.
“Mr. Flood’s Last Resort” is about a scary man in a scary house. And when I say a scary house, I mean it. Bridlemere hit all my creepy buttons. It’s a cross between an old-time curiosities carnival, a haunted mansion and a doll-emporium (and not nice dolls, either). Bridlemere is also a filthy garbage dump as owner Cathal Flood is a hoarder. Enter Maud Drennan, the saint-of-a-social worker who is sent to clean up the house and keep an eye on Flood (I use the word saint on purpose because Maud has a host of them who follow her offering a running commentary on everything she does).
Flood’s moods range from volatile to petulant. He gnashes his dentures a lot and is determined to run off Maud, as he did all the social workers before her. But Maud is resolute and refuses to be cowed. She starts making headway into the house and into Flood, even when she suspects him of murdering his wife, Mary Flood. She died by falling down a flight of stairs and really, who falls down a flight of stairs accidentally? And what is it about the Caravan in the backyard? And who is the little girl in the photographs and who vandalized the photos by burning the little girl’s face with a cigarette? The more Maud delves into Flood’s history, the more she becomes convinced that Cathal Flood is not what he seems. And she is right.
Maud gets outside help in solving the murder from her best friend Renata, who learned detective work from watching a lot of TV shows. Renata is vastly amusing and well written and the banter between her and Maud is so chewy you can taste it. With Renata’s encouragement, Maud digs deeper and deeper into the house and the mystery of the Floods. What Maud doesn’t expect is how the investigation reminds her of a dark period in her own life. As Maud closes in on the truth of Mary Flood’s death, the story closes in on Maud. The ending is satisfactorily horror-like but also sad. Kidd doesn’t allow sentimentality for her characters to override her craft decisions.
There’s a lot going on in this book but the real joy comes from Kidd’s prose and creativity. There’s spirits and saints and creepy dolls and ghosts and oddities and mechanical fortunetellers and cats and foxes and a house with a lot of secrets. There’s murder, deceit and missing girls. Sometimes I felt there were almost too many irons in the fire, as if Kidd had a laundry list of creepy things and used each and every one of them. Personally, I would have preferred more real estate on the oddities in the house because that kind of thing makes my hair stand on end. And I loved the saints wishing they did more than just give cryptic statements and meaningful glances. But those critiques are minor and really, just me wishing for more. “Mr. Flood’s Last Resort” reminded me why I don’t go to carnivals in small towns or inside dark, brooding Victorian style houses. But I will read about them all day long!
Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.